It doesn’t take long to put together an impressive list of successful people who also struggle with mental illness. Comedian/actor Jim Carrey has experienced clinical depression, Harry Potter author JK Rowling has battled depression, entrepreneur/business tycoon / CNN founder Ted Turner is living with bipolar disorder, and so on.
Statistics pile up on the correlation between mental illness and success. A 2008 study published in the University of Cincinnati Law Review suggests that CEOs may have twice the risk of developing depression than the general population. University of California San Francisco researcher Dr. Michael Freeman found in 2015 that 49% of entrepreneurs who started a business experienced mental illness.
Whether they are skilled businessmen, creative artists, writers, or high-performing individuals, why do so many successful people struggle with mental illness? The answer might be a bit like the chicken-and-egg conundrum: What came first? Mental illness or success?
Linking success and mental illness
When we look closer, one reason mental illness and success might go hand in hand has to do with what it takes to be successful in the first place.
Many of the traits needed to be a successful entrepreneur align with some symptoms of mental illness. For example, those with bipolar disorder think big and reach for the stars. They can be visionaries who think outside the box and create very ambitious goals and plans ”.
As a result, the qualities that describe a great entrepreneur or a creative person, someone willing to take the risks often necessary to achieve success, overlap with mental health conditions.
However, there is more. Success comes at a price, whether it is high financial responsibility, return expectations, or a level of fame and public scrutiny. All that stress and pressure on top of the growing demands can lead directly to the onset of bigger problems.
On a practical level, it is very difficult to balance a demanding career and one’s well-being. As you climb higher, you also face greater pressure to perform, which can lead to self-doubt. The downside of being smart and accomplished is that it’s easy to fall into the traps of thoughtfulness and worry.
Success can also generate isolation and self-neglect. When a commercial venture really takes off, it takes a lot of time and mental space to manage. This can put aside many of the social connections and moments of centering that would otherwise sustain our mental health.
The stigma of getting help
Getting help with mental illness still carries a stigma across the board, but for successful people who feel the pressure to stay on top, admitting it’s time to ask for help can be an even bigger obstacle. This may be another reason why so many successful people struggle with mental illness.